WHO concerned by global spread of COVID-19; China reports significantly fewer new cases

February 24, 2020

Despite a sharp fallin new deaths and cases of the coronavirus – in the Chinese epicenter Wuhan – on Saturday (US Central Time), new infections continued to rise in other countries, such as South Korea, Iran, Italy and Lebanon. The World Health Organization (WHO) warned against making predictions about the outbreak as it was deeply concerned about the worsening number of infections elsewhere, with no clear link to China.

The disease has spread rapidly to territories outside of China: in South Korea, authorities said on Saturday the number of new infections had doubled to 433, and suggested the tally could rise significantly after more than 1,000 people who attended a church at the center of the outbreak in Daegu reported flu-like symptoms. South Korea’s earlier cases were linked to China but the new infections centered in Daegu, a city of about 2.5 million, and a hospital in Cheongdo, a county with about 43,000 people, are unrelated and have since  been designated “special care zones” to arrest the outbreak.

The virus has also killed an elderly couple in Italy, the worst-affected country in Europe, and infected another 51 mostly in the north. Many residents at two regions where the outbreak is concentrated have been advised to remain indoors, while public gatherings including Sunday masses and football matches have been suspended, and schools and shops have been closed down.

Iran, which had no reported cases earlier this week, announced the detection of 10 new cases of coronavirus and two more deaths on Saturday, bringing the number of infections to 29 and the number of deaths to six.The announcement has, however, led to unexpected criticism and accusations from Iranians online of a cover-up by officials.

Lebanon confirmed its first case on Friday, a 45-year-old woman returning from Qom, Iran.

Japan, which confirmed 14 new cases on Saturday, similarly faces public outrage on whether it is doing enough to contain the outbreak and if the virus could disrupt this year’s Tokyo Olympics. Japan’s health minister has publicly apologised for the situation caused by “the oversight” – the ministry plans to retest passengers of a coronavirus-infected cruise ship which docked near Tokyo.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said the outbreak would likely lower China’s economic growth this year by 0.4 percentage points from its January outlook, and shave 0.1 percentage points from global growth. Already, the virus has caused massive disruption to businesses in China; but senior Chinese central bank officials played down worries about the potential damage to the world’s second-largest economy, saying the country’s financial system and currency were resilient.

Chen Yulu, Deputy Governor of the People’s Bank of China, is confident of winning the war against the epidemic: “We believe that after this epidemic is over, pent-up demand for consumption and investment will be fully released, and China’s economy will rebound swiftly.”

In total, China has reported 75,569 cases and 2,239 deaths to the WHO, according to Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The respiratory disease remains mild in 80% of patients, severe or critical in 20%, and fatal in 2% of reported cases, with a higher risk of death for older patients and relatively few cases among children.

To help with care efforts, the agency is calling for US$675 million to support the most vulnerable countries, Tedros said. This includes 13 countries in Africa which are seen as a priority because of their links to China.


Category: Features, Health alert

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